We all have a psychological Shadow. By this I mean those parts of us which we hide, deny or repress. Sometimes we may be aware of our Shadow, but much of the time we hide it even from ourselves.
But it is vital that we try and get to know our Shadow, or at least parts of it, because otherwise it can play an extremely unhealthy role in our lives.
So, what is the Shadow and how do we know about it? The idea was developed by Carl Jung and the Shadow basically refers to those parts of ourselves that do not correspond with how we like to see ourselves.
For example, we may like to think of ourselves as honest, respectable and hardworking and criticise those who are not like this. Almost inevitably there will, therefore, be a part of us that is (or could be) dishonest, disreputable and lazy. It is not that we need to act out our dishonesty or laziness necessarily, but more that we can acknowledge that we contain those parts within ourselves.
If we cannot accept all the parts of us, including the ones we judge as “bad”, we will project these unaccepted parts onto others and judge them.
This process is an unconscious one. We are mostly unaware of what we are rejecting within ourselves, as it has usually been going on since we were children. So, if as a child we were shamed by parents when we were too exuberant, we may have put that part of us in the Shadow in order to win our parents’ approval.
As a child this is not a conscious decisions, it’s just something that happens, so as we grow up we don’t even realise that we have disowned our exuberance and that it is in our Shadow.
But we may notice that we judge harshly those who we experience as being “too” exuberant.
The way we judge others, particularly, those people who really annoy us is usually a clue to what is in our Shadow. Another way we can learn about it is through our dreams. So, for example, being pursued by a tiger in a dream could represent how we run away from our own anger or wildness.
The Shadow can never be completely known. It is, by its nature, mysterious and unconscious. But we can get to know parts of it and own those parts instead of judging them in others. The more we can do this, the more integrated and whole we become.